In Conversation with Dr. Ghazal Mir Zulfiqar, Awardee Vice Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence 2022-23
Known for cultivating intellectual curiosity and promoting holistic well-being among her students, Dr. Ghazal Mir Zulfiqar, Associate Professor of Management Sciences, Suleman Dawood School of Business, is an extraordinary faculty member at LUMS.
What makes her an excellent teacher is her ‘ethics of care’. Deeply committed to educational leadership and student advising, her multidisciplinary approaches while teaching policy and research methods encourage healthy debate and co-learning. As expressed by one of her students, “It takes real courage to open yourself to students and invite them to engage in discussions as collaborators and teach them that their lived experience, their concerns about the world, and their interpretations are equally solid and hold value.”
Dr. Zulfiqar’s dedication to education is truly commendable. She cancelled her sabbatical this year because she could not imagine not being with her students for an entire year or even a semester. As one of her students commented, “Conversations with her during office hours often required a lot of emotional labour on her part, which she did for hours on end, twice a week, during the semester for everyone in our class.”
We sat down with her to learn more about her teaching philosophy, her thoughts on winning the award and what motivates her. Here is what she had to say.
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I would say it was more of an accident. I was sure I wanted to make a career in a global development think tank, but my PhD supervisor at the University of Massachusetts Boston persuaded me to try teaching. He said just try one course, that’s all. I gave in and applied to the university’s economics department and got the job. I enjoyed the experience but what I remember most is that first semester’s defining moment - it was in the university parking lot, I was searching for my car because as usual I had forgotten where I had parked it. Suddenly I was hit by a profound realization, I stopped short and just stood there in the middle of a sea of cars. “Why, I think I have fallen in love with these students!” I heard myself say. I think subconsciously that is the moment when my teaching career was decided for me.
Have any of your teachers inspired your teaching style?
Absolutely, I have been inspired by several teachers. Two things that stand out and I try to emulate are empathy and humility. I remember asking my PhD supervisor for advice before stepping into my first class as an instructor. His words surprised me. He said, when you are delivering a lecture and you see a student in the corner falling asleep, be kind to him and never call him out. He was probably working the night shift. Go to him after class and ask him how you can help him.
Then there was my qualitative research methods’ professor with whom I also worked as a graduate fellow. A humble graceful lady, she would give up her authority in a way that was bewildering to me at first. I didn’t realize until later how she was shaping the contours of the discussion because she refused to overtly exert her influence on her students or the team working with her - her constant warmth and encouragement gave anyone working with her the courage to become a collaborator in the classroom.
What multidisciplinary approaches do you employ while teaching policy and research methods?
My degree is in public policy and my interest is in global political economy, yet, I work at the business school. This has made my research and teaching interdisciplinary by default. I curate my syllabi using texts from across the social sciences. Students are exposed to a political scientist in one session and an anthropologist in the next. In my undergraduate classroom, there is a mix of students from all four schools, and this makes the interdisciplinary course even more exciting because students in my classroom are collaborators and not a passive audience.
What innovative strategies and techniques do you practice to keep students excited about learning?
Our students at LUMS are incredibly bright, eager to learn and debate so it is not difficult to get them excited when the instructor is passionate about the subject. Having said that, I have learned and adopted some techniques from my colleagues as well as from the workshops at the LUMS Learning Institute. One of the most popular of these with students at both undergraduate and graduate levels are student postcards where students creatively explain a theoretical concept, illustrating it with a real-world policy example using poetry, memes and animation. Another has been to work on a class-wide primary research project, the results of which students shared in presentations to the Human Rights of Pakistan’s Commission Annual Convention and faculty research seminars. A third, which I usually encourage during PhD coursework or senior undergraduate projects, is to teach students to conduct empirical research that they then go on to publish as academic articles or editorials.
If there is one thing that you want your students to remember, what would that be?
There are a couple of things I have learned over the years that I like to share with students, especially those that come to me for advice. The first is to think in terms of the long arc of your life and not get bogged down with things like your GPA or a quiz or exam gone bad. The second is to be your authentic self as often as possible and not worry too much about what people think, though I understand it’s hard to avoid social anxieties. Finally, take care of yourself, take time to play a sport or hit the gym or the pool at least two to three times a week. It is the biggest boost for your mental health and even academic performance, aside from the benefits to your physical health.
What do you find most rewarding as a teacher?
Without doubt it is student interaction.